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Anti-Iraq War Horse Rep. Murtha Ignites New Fires
Falls Church News-Press
By Nicholas F. Benton
January 12-18, 2006

Pennsylvania Rep. John T. Murtha commanded the stage and a live national television audience with unbowed resolve to defend his call for the immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq last Thursday, spellbinding an overflow crowd of 600 at a town meeting hosted by Rep. Jim Moran in the Ballston area of Arlington.

Murtha's credentials as a respected, veteran member of Congress with a strong record of supporting national defense has given enormous credibility to his call, and he told the audience Thursday that he's been frustrated by the Bush administration's reaction.

"All they can respond with is rhetoric," he charged. "We're 6,600 short in our military recruitment goals this year, and now have the smallest military since 1941. Families are having to go out to buy their sons and daughters in Iraq their battle armor, because they're not getting it from the Pentagon, and all this was going on before I started speaking out."

"I am getting criticized personally, yet this is not about me," he stated. "It's about people thirsting for a policy that makes sense, instead of an open-ended policy with no exit strategy."

"I want to save every single life I can, yet now we've lost just about as many Americans in Iraq as in the (World Trade Center) towers," he added. "In addition, there are 7,500 wounded, many so disfigured their wives can't look at them, and many more who suffer from battle fatigue. They call it by something different these days, but we knew it as battle fatigue."

"Our efforts in Iraq have turned the Iraqi people against us. 150,000 were put out of their homes in the siege of Falluja and the only thing that is uniting the Iraqi population now is its opposition to the U.S. occupation.

He said an immediate complete withdrawal would not only save U.S. lives, but compel the Iraqis to get serious about self-governing. With the U.S. forces out, the basis for the existence of the real terrorists would evaporate, and the nation's new leaders would root them out in their attempt to create a stable society based on the rule of law.

Murtha's stern bull dog presence and resolute voice in the highly charged atmosphere was highlighted by moving statements from a number of former U.S. soldiers who'd served in Iraq, and denounced the Bush administration's handling of the conflict.

However, the first questioner was a former Army sergeant who took issue with Murtha and Moran, insisting that morale among the U.S. troops was high in Iraq.

Moran replied, "We best support the troops when we make the most responsible decisions on their deployment." He said he didn't support the invasion of Iraq from the beginning because he didn't trust the intelligence, because Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with the 9/.11 attacks on the U.S. and was no threat, and because Bush went in "without a plan to win the peace."

"I support our troops, but I don't want to put them in harm's way unless it is in the U.S. interest," he said, and a loud applause burst forth.

But the critical nature of the first former soldier made comments of the others who followed him even more poignant. As each identified himself, and his former role in Iraq, the audience did not know which side of the issue the speaker would take.

Every other one, however, was highly critical of the Bush policy.

One, who said he'd enlisted after 9/11 and helped train troops going into Iraq said "everything Bush told us about that mission was incorrect." After a year in Iraq and being honorably discharged, he said, he's come home to "no job, no health insurance, and $30,000 in debt to my education."

Another, who said he'd spent a year and a half in Iraq, charged, "There is no accountability of the military leadership" there.

"Where's the accountability for this leadership? We've spent $327 billion for this war, and we still have troops in the war zone without equipment."

Still another who said he'd served as a sniper with the First Infantry in Iraq said, "Those are my friends you're talking about wounded at the hospital. All they ask is, `Why?' It was a fraudulent lead-up to war by this administration."

Rep. Murtha reminded the audience that the Bush administration is keeping the U.S. casualties in Iraq "to numbers and not to faces."

"There are no pictures allowed of caskets. They want to keep the war as distant, and not involving brothers, sisters, parents and children," he said. He cited Capt. Ian Fishback's letter to Sen. McCain about the U.S. policy on torture, noting that by speaking up, he'd ended his military career. Fishback, he said, remarked, "I'd rather die than see the standards of the U.S. lowered to the level of the Al Qaeda."

The biggest applause of the night was reserved to one questioner who asked that since the Bush is "criminally negligent," why not impeach him.

Moran reminded the audience that would never happen, because both branches of Congress are controlled by the GOP. But he noted that the Veterans Administration "is getting about half the funding it needs for the next five years," since "about 30% of the soldiers returning from Iraq will suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome (i.e. the ‘battle fatigue' Murtha had referred to earlier)."

Murtha added that while $18.4 billion has been earmarked for the reconstruction of Iraq, "a third of the population has no idea there is any money there at all for that." He denounced the misappropriation of the money and the pervasive use of sole-source contractors. "It's an aberration and leads to abuse," he said.

He added that "a lot of people are not happy with the position the Democrats are taking" on Iraq, noting that Moran is an exception. "He's the first to sign onto my plan" for immediate withdrawal, he said.

The forum, which was carried live on C-SPAN national TV, is being replayed on Arlington Cable Access Television, and other TV repeats of the event will be publicized by Moran's office.

Two quick points. First, the media never says "pro war" Bush or "pro war" Cheney. But, when it comes to anti war, a congressman's stance on war is always in the headlines. It's a GOP smear tactic and small minds in the media can't help themselves - it's a coy GOP spear. Second, the dems need Murtha to give their response to Bush's State of the Union. Murtha should destroy the Bush propaganda and end this silliness in the media